I loved that jungle, the one behind the house:
it bore the wild Malayan Emergency
leaf-knitting colonies of chilli-red ants
and scowling ahmas
to a very fine and furious mince
enfolded in dumplings
purple chicken’s entrails
sweating in pots of broth.
Fortunes told, widows in black,
clairvoyants in a house of exorcism –
more incense in the shrine, fresher
pyramids of tangerines.
Burst fireworks confettied the air.
Young fauna, my brother and I
dried off in Royal Selangor
Golf Club towels in a house that
reeked of quinine, limes and gin,
almost mixed them myself
for darling spinsters
who never scolded,
with butterfly collections
and how-to-paint books.
We became their undeparted sons
two cheeky gnomes
in their too cold conditioned
Inquisitive and flirtatious
with the servant classes
we prospered in the orchid weather
over-nurtured and beautiful.
Chauffeur, silent behind the wheel
Koran on the radio;
and “our gardener”, the greatest
in the business, hands stained with the soil
of an intense wormy blackness
calloused and hot to the touch. Recipient
of our old London blankets, for the family
we never saw.
We mimicked the ahmas
their singsong speech
angry waving of meat cleavers.
We were Master’s sons risking sour medicine
to take new territory: alcoves and playgrounds
of camphor and silk, black lacquer
tiffins of pickled cabbage rice
and almost typically
fell in love with the ahma’s daughter
in a galvanised tub,
scrubbed with Camay
her ribbons hung to dry on a bamboo stick
for whipping bad boys and dogs.
In games of war and riding the dragon
tadpole hunting and killing the tiger in the tiger’s lair
we fell from air to earth, warriors in a two child Opera
where every wound was fatal.
We glazed each other’s knees
with Tiger Balm, Gold Cup Brand
and sucked and chewed on salted plum.
We learned another way of saying
no, yes, and how delicious
and yes the lights stayed on
when the rain belted down
all night folding paper
into cranes, the tamed menagerie
bending their wings back